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X's and O's - Scorching speed

by Jeff Angus / Vancouver Canucks
There wasn’t much to cheer about in Game 4 as a Canucks fan. The Flames took both of the games in Calgary and the series now shifts back to Vancouver with the Canucks needing to win out to stay alive in the 2015 postseason.

The game highlights:

Let’s take a look at the top three plays from last night as voted on by me:

#3 – Ryan Miller stands tall

If there was anything positive to come out of last night’s game, it was the strong 3rd period play from Miller. Although it was a case of too-little, too-late, he had several impressive point-blank stops in the 3rd period. Miller played very well in relief duty for a guy hasn’t played in a meaningful game situation (sorry, Edmonton) in two months.

The opportunities to score on Miller in the third period started from a physical forecheck (this statement could be used for a lot of Calgary’s scoring chances last night). Michael Ferland, who somehow has managed to alter the definition of the word ‘charge’ in the NHL rulebook, continues to haunt Kevin Bieksa. In this situation, he knocks Bieksa off of the puck and goes over to retrieve it.

Calgary continues to bring the pressure on Bieksa. This time, David Jones knocks him off the puck and makes a nice play to feed it out front to Matt Stajan.

Stajan’s first grade A scoring chance.

And his second. Miller stands tall to keep the Canucks in the game with the clock ticking down.

#2 – Jiri Hudler’s between the leg beauty

In a sign of what was to come, the Flames opened the scoring with an early power play goal from Johnny Gaudreau. The key to this play, though, was an incredible no-look through-the-legs feed from behind the net out front by Hudler. This is something we have been lucky enough to see Daniel and Henrik pull off from time to time. Hudler has had an impressive 2014-15 season, although he was quiet through the first three games of this series. Last night was definitely his strongest performance.

Calgary’s defense – particularly Dennis Wideman, Kris Russell, and TJ Brodie – have done a great job at activating down low to create offensive opportunities in this series. On this play, Wideman remains around the net in order to receive Hudler’s pass and make a play. As CBC announcer Craig Simpson said, the Canucks were playing extremely aggressive on the penalty kill, and the best way to combat that is with very quick puck movement.

The way the defensemen are utilized on Calgary reminds me of the Canucks back when they had Christian Ehrhoff – most times the defensemen are given the green light to act as third or fourth forwards in the offensive zone or on the rush.

Gaudreau emerges from behind the net and fires a shot past a sprawling Eddie Lack. I remember seeing Johnny Hockey play live during his college career with the Boston College Eagles – his skill and hockey sense were very obvious at that level, but I didn’t think he would adjust to the NHL so quickly – kudos to him for figuring out how to make such a significant impact as a rookie.

Although Canucks fans would definitely prefer to see #13 wearing a different sweater, stories like his are a great reminder that scouting is still very much an art form.

#1 – TJ Brodie joins the rush

The third Calgary goal was once again the result of quick passing and a smart pinch by a defenseman – in this case, Brodie.

The play starts off with Calgary heading up the ice with a three-on-two advantage. So far so good for the pairing of Kevin Bieksa and Luca Sbisa, who had a tough night handling the speed and pressure of the Flames forwards.

Joe Colborne makes a strong move to cut into the middle, and in doing so forces Sbisa and Bieksa to pick someone to check. Many defensemen in this situation would peel back or try and cut into the middle for a drop pass, but Brodie remains out wide.

Colborne delays just enough to pull Bieksa out of position, and then feeds the puck over to a wide open Brodie. Nick Bonino has decided to pick up Sam Bennett as the late man, and Colborne recognizes that. Brodie whips the puck home from a very tough angle.

The above three plays are indicative of how Game 4 played out – a lot of speed and a lot of scoring chances from the Flames. Vancouver was outhit and outchanced by a faster and hungrier team, and now they return home facing the first ‘real’ must-win situation of the 2014-15 season.

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